Hello there – after the privilege of matrimonial gallivanting in Godzone, it’s a delight to be back to the blog. I wrote at length before I disappeared about the year gone by; and so here, with brief commentary, is part one of my list of what seem to be the best films released in 2009. I'll post a much more extensive piece on also-rans, near-misses, and dishonourable mentions in a couple of days...But for now:
10: Il Divo/Anvil: The rise and rise and rise of a fallen leader; and the fall and rise of an elevated twosome: the most compelling political biopic and most engaging music documentary of the year.
9: Mary and Max: Sundance opener which I saw a year ago and isn’t easily forgotten – a wise and funny treatment of loneliness and outsider status in a stop-motion tale of a middle aged obese New Yorker with Asperger’s syndrome, and the nerdy Australian teenager he writes to.
8: Inglourious Basterds: A ‘moviemovie’ that renews our relationship with war; while I have no idea what Tarantino wants me to think, seems to me that it’s both exhilirating, and a provocative response to our appetite for violence.
7: The Road: This year’s winner of the ‘Will Smith/Seven Pounds’ award for most melancholic feelgood film ever made; a post-apocalyptic wasteland photographed as if through mud, with nothing but the love of a father for his child to propel it. Metaphor-full, but alive with the realistic hope that good is worthwhile, whether it outshines the darkness or not. And the best of the recent remarkable Robert Duvall twilight performances.
6: The Messenger: Sadly overlooked by audiences, along with ‘The Hurt Locker’, the first fully realized Iraq war veteran film; a ‘Deer Hunter’ for our generation (or at least the post-war ‘return’ sequences of Cimino’s film).
5: In the Loop: A genius comedy about the run up to the war that is so truthful about motivation, spin, and the unhinged grasp of the facts and their consequences that it stops being laughable almost immediately.
4: The Hurt Locker: A film about a generation of two kinds of men who can’t decide which cereal they want. Men who went, and men who didn’t.
3: Goodbye Solo: Ramin Bahrani told us that his film is not a metaphor for the myth of liberal non-intervention, but a query into whether or not a person can love another enough to let them make terrible decisions. I think it turns out to be both; but it’s also the most exciting early film from a new(ish) director working in the US that I’ve seen since ‘Rushmore’.
2: A Serious Man: The best film by the Coen Brothers, or at least the one that felt most like me: an epically funny, and profoundly sad treatment of religion at its most cursed, and faith at its most elevating.
1: Gaia: A $28 000 miracle – Jason Lehel wrote a treatment, gathered some colleagues, went into the desert, and in a few weeks captured the story of a physically and emotionally broken woman finding healing among the economically disenfranchised survivors of historic racism and displacement. ‘Gaia’ features what Jett has called one of the most sacred things he’s ever seen on screen; and is a perfect fusion of image, sound, and performance, weaving in and apart from each other. Watching it was a religious experience, in every good sense of the phrase.